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I Will Defy the Enormous Army of Age

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Guenever had overdressed for the occasion. She had put on make-up, which she did not need, and put it on badly. She was forty-two.

When Lancelot saw her waiting for him at the table, with Arthur beside her, the heart-sack broke in his wame, and the love inside it ran about his veins. It was his old love for girl of twenty, standing proudly by her throne with the present captives about her – but now the same girl was standing in other surroundings, the surroundings of bad make-up and loud silks, by which she was trying to defy the invincible doom of human destiny. He saw her as the passionate spirit of innocent youth, now beleaguered by the trick which is played on youth – the trick of treachery in the body, which turns flesh into green bones. Her stupid finery was not vulgar to him, but touching. The girl was still there, still appealing from behind the breaking barricade of rouge. She had made the brave protest: I will not be vanquished. Under the clumsy coquetry, the undignified clothes, there was the human cry for help. The young eyes were puzzled, saying: It is I, inside here – what have they done to me? I will not submit. Some part of her spirit knew that the powder was making a guy of her, and hated it, and tried to hold her lover with the eyes alone. They said: Don’t look at all this. Look at me. I am still here, in the eyes. Look at me, here in the prison, and help me out. Another part said: I am not old, it is illusion. I am beautifully made-up. See, I will perform the movements of youth. I will defy the enormous army of age.

The Once and Future King, by T. H. White

I hate to molest you with yet another lengthy quote from T. H. White, but because this is – as per the title – my world, it has a rightful place in this collage of all my favourite things.

I must admit, at the outset (and to my companion’s great dismay) I found The Once and Future King a tad tedious. But like with so many great books, the sluggish beginning is justified by the consequent chapters. My favourite thing about the book so far is T. H. White’s understanding and consideration of the human condition. Nobody in his rendition of the Arthurian Legends is purely good or purely bad, and even the saintliest characters (including the mighty Merlyn) have very human flaws – fears, desires, motivations, doubts, petty irks and sulky grievances.

It’s noteworthy that T. H. White only deals with those episodes where the characters are growing: childhood, middle age, and the various crises and struggles in-between. He brushes over the entire period of Lancelot’s fame and fortune in several lines, focusing instead on the troubled childhood and conflicted adulthood of ‘the ill-made knight’.

I’m glad I hung on from the beginning. This book is living up to its promise.


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